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I desperately need to find me a reason to be thankful before Thanksgiving arrives


November 21, 2005

Here is a piece I had written a while back and now wish to dedicate it this Thanksgiving to Zinat Javid and all the good grandmothers who have touched our lives.

My grandmother, Nanjoon, an aging diabetic with bad joints and high blood pressure, used to constantly say prayers under her breath to thank God for her good health. “Dear God, ‘shokr’ for the bounties you have bestowed on me, for my good children, grandchildren, and above all, for my good health and the ability to do for myself.” She lived to be ninety-five, but as a child, I considered her gratitude ludicrous. Each time I visited that lonely widow in her humble home, especially when it took her forever to climb the stairs, I felt sorry she didn’t have much else to be thankful for. Now approaching the flock of “senior citizens” myself, I begin to appreciate the immeasurable resources Nanjoon spoke of.

In a roundabout way, aging reminds me of my growing years, when every inch felt like a huge victory and defeat only came when cousins and peers passed me in height. Every little notch on that make-shift growth chart I had made on a wall helped me to forgive the pain in my joints and tolerate the increasing imperfections reflected in my mirror. At school, we bragged to each other about clothes that we had outgrown, even lied a little, and let the topic become a constant in our discussions. We stretched and did our sneaky tiptoe as they measured us and when the “growth spurt” did not happen fast enough, we were told that with our genes, a delay wasn’t unexpected and believed it, too. When all else failed, I – for one – found solace in platform shoes.

Old age, though it is indeed a whole different game, shares some of the same aspects and concerns as youth, which may be why some prefer to call it “maturity.” As the strands of gray hair become too numerous to pluck and a good night’s sleep fails to remedy the bags under the eyes, our first reaction tends to be that of utter denial. We bury our birth certificates in a hole in the backyard, guard our driver’s licenses with an imaginary gun and subtract a few years each time someone has the audacity to ask our age. But soon comes a time when no amount of facial cream helps and none of the millions of new-and-improved cosmetic products can camouflage the cruel passage of time. With all options taken away, we settle down, count our blessings, and allow the little morsels of happiness life has thrown us to be a reason for gratitude.  

One of my friends has chosen to join the millions who exchange their lovely weathered face for that of an unresponsive youth. From what I can remember, at school she didn’t use to have pouting lips, her eyes did not reflect a permanent surprise and when she laughed, her mouth did move. This new face of hers is so wrinkle free that when she claims to have been years behind me in school, not only others believe her, sometimes I do, as well.  On the other hand, my best friend dove into her old age head on as she prays day and night, recites the Koran and looks so old I’m not sure if she wasn’t in fact my grandmother’s buddy. Stuck in the middle, my only hope is to look young enough to dress up as “Mother of. . .” when – and if – my children someday decide to get married.

The problem with aging is that, no matter how prepared we may think we are, the ambush comes when least expected and undermines us when we are by no means ready. Like termites, the years gnaw at the very roots of our foundation and although we know it’s there, its silent crawl helps us to deny the creepy presence. Retired and with little else to do, we tend to develop an unbelievable imagination. We blame the little back problem on having lifted heavy loads or on a bad mattress in desperate need of a turnover. The wrinkles are the payback for too much exposure to the sun, the gray hair is a family inheritance and the extra pounds piled up because we gave up smoking. Contrary to the common consensus, men are no exemption to this rule for you’ve got to love it when they tell you that baldness runs in the family!

The bitter truth is that sooner or later we all reach the declining point and I strongly believe this to be one of those cases where surrender may prove as the best approach. That being the case, then I desperately need to find me a reason to be thankful before Thanksgiving arrives so that I’ll have the stamina to face all the cooking it entails. I mean, true that I appreciate my family, my friends, blah, blah, blah, but what about me, the person?

In a world filled with injustice and calamity, I look around this quiet home, straighten my aching back, and make a note to call the doctor about that clogged artery he’s recently found. My morning coffee helps me to swallow the daily medicines and I realize how much there is to be thankful for. I review my countless blessings, but above all, as I flex my ailing knee, I thank God for my health and for having such fond memories of a grandmother whose invaluable lessons keep on giving.

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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